Fantastic Fungi! Feed, Fix, Fight

While breaking down old tree limbs is their most visible job, fungi do far more than just decompose. They form vital associations with plants, supporting most of the green world as we know it. They’re employed at toxic waste sites to sequester heavy metals. And they even engage in biowarfare, helping to protect crops and turf. Fungi are antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. And many are tasty and nutritious, to boot! Here’s a taste of their superpowers: 

Feeding trees and plants

Only 10% of the estimated 5 million species of fungi produce mushrooms, but many more are important nutrient cyclers, turning detritus into soluble forms for living plants. Move a stick or log, and you’ll notice fuzzy, cobwebby threads stretching everywhere – that’s mycelium, a network of fungal threads that are the foundation of the food web, supporting other soil microbes like bacteria and invertebrates. The kin (called mycorrhizae) form a synergistic relationship with 95% or more of all plant species. The mycorrhizae gather nutrients from far beyond the grasp of plant roots; in turn, plants release surplus sugars from photosynthesis to support the fungal symbiotes. 

Remediating pollutants

Mycoremediation – using fungi to help break down environmental contaminants – is particularly effective at removing heavy metals such as copper, lead, mercury, arsenic, and nickel from contaminated soils. Mutagens and carcinogens, these metals contaminate food and water supplies, threatening the health of animals and humans, alike. Certain fungi also play a role in degrading pesticides, pharmaceutical wastes and even petroleum products.

Fighting pests

A fungus as a pesticide? Yes! First discovered in a cinnamon tree in Honduras, Muscodor albus produces a mixture of volatile organic compounds that kill a wide range of fungal and bacterial pathogens. Early tests indicate it could replace methyl bromide fumigation as a means to control soil-borne plant diseases. You can’t see it but they’re fighting the good fight deep below your feet. That’s why it’s not recommended to treat those stray mushrooms that pop up in your lawn – applying fungicides to the lawn kills these beneficial fungi too.  Consider that a single cubic inch of soil can have more than 8 miles of mycelium, a network that creates microenvironments for beneficial bacteria, flagellates and protists. Avoiding lawn chemicals protects the important balance of predators and pests that healthy soil provides.  


Did you miss the Walk in the Woods online presentation in February?  Watch the recording and join mycophile and Texas Master Naturalist Teri MacArthur as she shares The Weird and Wonderful World of Mushrooms.


Discover More! 

Paul Stamets Fantastic Fungi “Mush Room” of resources. Listen to his Ted Talk on the 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World

iNaturalist Mushrooms of Texas https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/mushrooms-of-texas 

North American Mycological Association has an extensive list of recommended books https://namyco.org/refbooks.php. While you are there check out their stunning photography contests.


Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Don’t Fear the Fungus

Some are scary or downright disgusting when you first encounter them. Is that dog vomit? No, it might be an aptly named slime mold, Fuligo septica. Technically not a fungus, this protist appears suddenly, much like a lawn mushroom, and disappears almost as fast. If you knew the gargantuan effort it takes to assemble this many single-celled organism you might just leave them be to finish out their lifecycle.   

While fungi come in a wondrous assortment of colors and forms, the vast majority are not only beneficial but necessary. They’re also beautiful! Consider the delicate banded Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor), the lacey petticoat of bridal veil stinkhorn, or the artists’ favorite, Amanita muscaria

Situation Normal 

Mushrooms in your lawn is not a sign of something wrong! They’re simply the visible part of a much larger network of underground mycelium, breaking down dead and decaying organic matter. Look around – is there a stump nearby? 99% of fungus won’t harm a living tree; they’re there to help with decomposing dead or dying wood, along with leaves, wood chips, branches, and fallen fruit. Mushrooms are a good sign! They’re proof the soil is alive, diverse, and rich in nutrients – the foundation of a healthy lawn and landscape. 

What to Do 

Resist the urge to treat it and grab your phone instead. Easy-to-use apps such as iNaturalist or Google Lens will help you identify which mushroom is flourishing in your flower bed. iNaturalist will even help you filter by location to see what others are seeing nearby. 

Fungicides are not recommended. The mushrooms typically aren’t causing damage and the chemicals are largely ineffective since the bulk of the mushroom exists belowground – think multiple square feet. It’s that extensive network of hyphae throughout the soil that comprises the true fungus from which the fruiting bodies – mushroom caps – arise. They’re a natural part of spring and fall when moisture abounds and temperatures cool. As weather conditions become unfavorable mushrooms retreat on their own, often as quickly as they appeared. You can discourage mushrooms by watering less frequently and pruning to reduce shade. 

Treatment 

If you really want them gone – perhaps you have a toddler or dog that puts everything in their mouth, here’s how: 

  • Cut or pull or mow the fruiting bodies to limit the number of spores and therefore future mushrooms. The rest of the fungal mycelia will persist underground until conditions return for another round of fruiting – likely not for a while.  
  • When trees are removed, the roots persist and begin to decompose with the help of insects, bacteria and fungi. The only way to permanently stop the continual upcropping of mushrooms is to dig out the soil containing the decaying matter, 12 to 18 inches deep and 2 feet outside the mushroom cluster. If that seems like a lot of work, leave the mushroom power houses there. When they’ve done their job of devouring all that underground material, it – and the mushrooms above – will disappear for good. 
  • Take care to wash hands thoroughly after handling mushrooms, as even some edible types can cause irritation. 

Mushrooms are a good sign. Delight in their ephemeral presence next time they make an appearance in your yard. Most are no “truffle” at all. 

Discover More! 

iNaturalist Mushrooms of Texas 

North American Mycological Association has an extensive list of recommended books. While you are there check out their stunning photography contests. 

All about dog vomit slime mold 

Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Fall is perfect for mushroom hunting

The Piney Woods ecoregion of East Texas (in which The Woodlands sits) is home to towering pines, delicate dogwoods, the red-cockaded woodpecker, and miles of tea-colored, sandy creeks. Its lush flora and fauna are supported by the area’s heavy rainfall, and this also makes way for more elusive natural treasures—mushrooms.

One day there’s no trace, and then the next—there they are. Wild mushrooms may be harder to spot, but they are plentiful especially after a good rain. And fall is a great time to find them along The Woodlands’ hike and bike paths.

What is a mushroom?

A mushroom is comparable to the flower or fruit of a plant—but without much going on above ground. Most of the fungal organism lives within the soil or wood as thread-like strands known as mycelium. Below ground, a fungus can be downright humongous—like the documented Armillaria in eastern Oregon.

Scientists call the fungus in eastern Oregon the largest single living organism in the world, and it’s somewhere between 2,000 to 8,000 years old.

Some fungi are mycorrhizae that grow in association with the roots of a plant, supplying it with nutrients. These fungi play an especially important role in soil biology.

When fungi bloom, they send their tiny forest sculptures above ground and we find mushrooms. They are most often found on dead or decaying organic matter—making fall a great time to find them as they decompose the season’s fallen leaves.

Common species

A favorite of artists and photographers alike is Amanita muscaria, one of the most recognizable and common mushrooms.  It may be a looker, but don’t be tempted to do more with it. It’s toxic. Find it among pines and other conifers.

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Look for this graceful, long-stemmed mushroom, Oudemansiella radicata, often found near hardwoods. It’s one of the hardest working decomposers out there, quickly breaking down dead materials into the soil and releasing nutrients that trees can absorb.

Oudemansiella radicata

Another interesting find is the Ganoderma species. Though it’s not an edible mushroom, they are highly prized in some cultures for medicinal properties. Specimens are dried, ground, and steeped as a tea thought to treat anything from stomach pain to some cancers. It’s another great decomposer.

Ganoderma

Finally, when you see this messy mushroom that almost looks like broken eggs on the ground, you have found one of the Scleroderma species. It’s highly toxic if consumed, but like the other mushrooms, helps move nutrients around in mixed pine and hardwood forests.

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Take a walk and see what you find. And keep in mind: many mushrooms are toxic, so take pictures rather than pick them. To learn more about mushrooms and get help identifying the hundreds of species that grow in the area, grab a field guide.

Suggested Field Guides

Texas Mushrooms: A Field Guide, Susan and Van Metzler, University of Texas Press
Mushrooms Demystified, David Arora, Ten Speed Press